The world isn’t exactly lovable at the moment. Still, there are still things that are worth our time. One of them is Anand Giridharadas’s interview with Ann Heberlein. Heberlein wrote a new biography of Hannah Arendt, the wonderful political philosopher that everyone fully intends to read at some point (myself included). Anand and Ann touched on everything from evil to forgiveness to love.
They, of course, touched on everything happening in the US right now. Heberlein summarised Trump’s talent for mobilising the masses well:
[Donald Trump] has been exceptionally good at speaking to what Nietszche called “ressentiment,” that is, a feeling of inferiority and powerlessness, of being forgotten, despised, and invisible.
The ressentiment creates hatred. Hatred towards those who are considered to be part of some kind of establishment and hatred because of perceived or real historical wrongdoing. All totalitarian movements in history, such as fascism or communism, have addressed that kind of ressentiment, and every kind of totalitarian movement in the future will do the same, regardless of political color. Despite the fact that Trump belongs in every sense of the word to the establishment — he owns economic assets; he enjoys political power and has the capacity to shape the image of our common reality — he has allied himself with the ressentiment-driven fractions of society.
A dictatorship is not created overnight. A genocide or a civil war does not arise out of thin air. It requires preparation in the form of lies, propaganda, and a conscious division into “us and them,” belonging and non-belonging.
The painful thing about this is that, despite the danger and the anxiety, we need to find ways to love the world in which we live:
[Arendt] believes that it is a duty to love the world. Amor mundi, “love of the world,” means caring for life so that it can continue to exist. We must be able to love the world as it is, in all its brokenness and imperfection. To achieve that requires hope, hope that change is possible, hope for the future.
Hope is necessary. Without hope, without the ability to imagine a life beyond its present circumstances, a person may be prone to give up. But someone who has the ability to embrace that hope may have a capacity to survive atrocities and inhumanity.
I read a cute, albeit depressing, comic on Twitter this morning. A pastel stegosaurus laments its ability to imagine the world being crushed by a giant rock vs its inability to imagine the world becoming a “fairer, kinder place”.
And, you know, same. Sometimes. But it’s always going to be easier to imagine some random, catastrophic event because they don’t require any effort on our part. One day, a meteor just hits us and bam, no more world. The world becoming fairer, kinder, better calls for a lot of work on all our parts. That calls for hope and it calls for love.
Love and hope are choices. You wake up every day and rededicate yourself to both. And you try and build reasons to do it again tomorrow.